MacIver News Service | February 20, 2012
[Madison, Wisc…] Over the weekend, a strange pamphlet began appearing in mailboxes across Wisconsin. It looks like a voter registration form and return label read, Government Accountability Board, but the return address included the incorrect post office box number.
The mailings also included requests for information not required to register to vote in Wisconsin, and at least one solicitation tried to register a six year old girl to vote.
The GAB confirmed to the MacIver News Service it had received calls about the mailing, but it did not send them out. The GAB initially had no other comment other to relay that it was looking into the matter.
However, late in the day, the GAB issued a press release on the matter.
“It is the responsibility of any group registering voters to ensure that the applications are sent to the proper local election official,” said GAB Executive Director Kevin Kennedy said. “In Wisconsin, that is not the Government Accountability Board.”
The mailer purported came from an organization called “The Voter Participation Center.”
There is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit by that name, and the organization has been involved in voter registration drives in other states, often prompting complaints. The Voter Participation Center’s stated mission is to increase voting among unmarried women, 18-29 year olds, and “people of color.” The organization used to be called “Women’s Voices. Women Vote” or WVWV, which was founded in 2005.
The group has been accused in the past of disenfranchising voters by sending out confusing mailers, leading them to believe they are registering to vote when, in fact, they were not. In Wisconsin in 2008, WVWV sent out actual registration forms, but after the official deadline to register to vote in the primaries.
At the time Kevin Kennedy, stated in a press release, “It’s unfortunate that such groups do not inform voters of our deadlines. Voters have the expectation that they will be properly registered when they fill out a form. This action misleads them, and causes extra challenges for poll workers in Wisconsin on Tuesday.”
Three different people in Wisconsin contacted the MacIver News Service about the latest round of mailers.
The packet states that it is an official application form, but it asks an unusual question that made recipients suspicious. It requests the voters’ party affiliation, even though Wisconsin is an open primary state and voters are never asked this question by election workers.
Moreover, it is uncertain whether the registration requests would ever get to the GAB, given that the return address on the mailing is incorrect.
Those individuals who contacted MNS were unsure how they appeared on the group’s mailing list and were also uneasy regarding to who these forms were returned. One woman’s daughter received the mailing at her dorm room, even though the student is a registered voter at the parent’s address.
“By filling in this form and sending the information in, you have no idea what will actually be done with the information,” wrote a woman describes herself as a conservative housewife and who blogs at the website Lizzie Files. “I would recommend letting friends and family know if they receive this to not try this method to register, instead use the GAB's instructions.”
See more of her account at her blog, here
The MacIver News Service was contacted by another woman from Southeastern Wisconsin who said her and her daughter also received the mailing. Along with wondering how her name landed on their mailing list, the woman noted another problem, "my daughter is only six years old – and it states that their records show that she is eligible to vote."
After several hours and more than one inquiry, The Voter Participation Center’s spokesman responded to a MacIver News Service request for information regarding the mailer. She said either the Chief Operating Officer or another woman not listed in the staff directory would be responding.
As of this report, the MNS has not yet heard from either of the offials at the VPC.
Since 2006, the Voter Participation Center and its predecessor have been involved in a series of voter-registration mixups in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia.
Such a checkered track record is surprising to many since the organization is staffed by so many individuals with a long history of service to Democratic causes and candidates.
On their website last August, the VPC ran a column by Georgia Congressman John Lewis, wherein the Democrat railed against efforts by many states to require voters to prove their identity by showing a state-issued photo identification card at the polls.
According to the Government Accountability Board, the VPC contacted the G.A.B. late in 2011, asking staff to review its proposed mailing for errors. The staff pointed out several errors, some of which were corrected, and some of which were not. Specifically, the G.A.B. asked VPC not to have residents send their voter registration forms directly to the G.A.B., since voter registration is handled by Wisconsin’s 1,850 municipal clerks.
Kevin Kennedy, said that while it is legal for groups and political parties to produce and distribute voter registration forms, residents who wish to register to vote need not rely on them. “If you need or want to register to vote, contact your municipal clerk directly and request an application,” Kennedy said. “You can also download an official Wisconsin voter registration form from the G.A.B. website, fill it out and mail it directly to the clerk.”
So, what to make of this Wisconsin mailer?
Who was the target audience?
Was this, indeed, sent by the Voter Participation Center?
Is this mailing an effort an attempt to confuse and manipulate conservative voters?
Is this a data mining operation?
Or, is this merely another in a series of questionable and sloppy efforts on the part of a national organization with a dubious track record?
We’ll provide more details as they become available, including any further reaction from the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board and the Voter Participation Center.